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Monday, 17 March 2014 22:28

A vision of service fulfilled

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Sr Stancea VichieThe 70th foundation anniversary of the Missionary Sisters of Service (MSS) promises to be a jubilant year-long celebration of its story that can be fully appreciated through the biblical meaning of the number seventy, signifying completion and fullness of an age.

“Seventy years also remind us of the significance of the number 70 in the biblical context, which point to the idea of perfection,” said Congregational Leader Sister Stancea Vichie (pictured). “The deeper meaning of this reality is completeness and union – in God, with one another and the whole of creation. And it is a vision of perfection which is very different to what you think when you hear the word ‘perfection’.”

This sense of completeness on this 70th year is highly symbolic, signifying the fulfilment of the vision of MSS founder Father John Corcoran Wallis whose story is inextricably linked to the collective memory of the Missionary Sisters of Service and their supporters. The MSS congregation started as a seed planted in Fr Wallis’ mind when, as a young priest on Bruny Island, Tasmania on a pastoral visit to the Hawkins family, Mrs Hawkins asked him, “Father, why can’t we have sisters to come to us? Doesn’t anyone care about us people in the bush?”

Fr Wallis then envisioned and founded a group of women ministering to remote rural and outback areas. They went out to communities on rough roads and paths, visited homes and offered support, formation, education, counsel and encouragement to those who were beyond the reach of Catholic schools and services that were readily available to others.

This year’s celebration also marks the congregation’s 50th anniversary of the arrival of five Sisters at the Toowoomba Diocese in Queensland. The Sisters worked in teams and ministered to outlying towns and properties in the vast areas west of Toowoomba. Years later, each of the Sisters moved into more fixed pastoral roles—in counselling, diocesan and community support— adapting to changes and challenges according to their capacities and the needs of the community.

This year will be marked by more commemorative events, many of them building on annual events which will take on a special significance due to the anniversary celebrations. But it is the Tasmanian pilgrimages in September that are most meaningful and highly anticipated. “The first four Sisters got together in Launceston in Tasmania and the community gradually spread from there,” said Sr Stancea. “And one of the things that will happen will be a pilgrimage on Bruny Island. It will simply be special as this place was a defining moment in our story."

The congregation’s motto, “into the highways and byways” may now have little to do with pastoral work in remote communities, but it remains a driving force in the diverse areas of service and advocacy of MSS Sisters at present, such as their involvement in counselling and pastoral outreach and their advocacy for justice in issues such as refugees, human trafficking and ecology.

“’Into the highways and byways’ is not just about geography,” said Sr Stancea. “Over the years we’ve come to see that people can be isolated even in the middle of the city, and we've realised that as we've worked much more in urban areas."

"It’s about being with people in their ordinary, everyday lives - that doesn't meant that's all we ever do. For instance, we've got two Sisters in aged care. They would have that same spirit of being 'into the highways and byways'. But it's not just about being out there and into the wider community."

"It may sound very simple, but it's about being present to others."

In 2010, the congregation set up the John Wallis Foundation to carry on the vision and mission of the Missionary Sisters of Service now and into the future. In the spirit of the MSS, the Foundation reaches out to people on the margins in various parts of the country.

What began as a band of sisters who were not restricted by rules, regulation, or convent life, who went out in dusty, unmade roads to be with people has since become a testament to the power of diversity, creativity and adaptability with a singular vision: to step out of one’s comfort zone and come to the aid of those most in need.

By Giselle Lapitan

More information on event dates and details for celebrating the 70th foundation anniversary of the Missionary Sisters of Service can be found here.

If you would love to share your stories on how the lives and work of the Missionary Sisters of Service shaped and inspired you or someone you know, please get in touch through This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit their website.